This has been debated for some time now, but there are no two ways to do it. Biological contamination of the solar system is a serious problem, and NASA has released draft guidelines (NID) on the requirements for future robotic and human missions to the Earth’s moon and human missions to Mars. NASA’s interim directive NID 8715.128 deals with upcoming robotic and crewed missions to the Moon while NID 8715.129 sets out the guidelines for the human mission to Mars. The new guidelines are intended to follow up on NASA’s already stringent planetary protection processes, which are to not contaminate the solar system and not bring microbes from space that could harm life on Earth.
“We are achieving our important goal of sustainable exploration of the Moon while simultaneously protecting future science in permanently shaded areas. These sites are of immense scientific value in shaping our understanding of the history of our planet, the Moon and the solar system, ”said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator of the Scientific Missions Directorate of NASA. “It is vital that NASA regulations remain synchronized with our capabilities and plans. This NID will allow human exploration of Mars, creating new opportunities for inspiring science and innovative business activities. I believe science and human exploration are complementary efforts and I am delighted to see these political reforms usher in a new era of discovery, “said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
PID 8715.128 indicates that the directions given apply to all NASA missions that may encounter the Earth’s moon. “The provisions of this PID cover robotic and crewed space flight missions with the participation of NASA, which may or may not intentionally transport terrestrial organisms and organic constituents on the Moon. More specifically, this includes NASA-controlled missions, NASA-sponsored trade missions, joint missions in which NASA participates, and NASA support for non-NASA missions to the extent specified or referenced in contracts, grants or applicable agreements, “he said.
NASA warns, however, that due to the evolution and still incomplete knowledge of transport mechanisms on the lunar surface, the latest NID may be subject to change if new information on lunar environments indicates that there may be the need for a different planetary protection categorization for Earth Moon missions.
NID 8715.129 includes all NASA-controlled missions, NASA-sponsored trade missions, joint missions in which NASA participates, and NASA support for non-NASA missions. He states the need to “control the forward contamination of other worlds by terrestrial organisms and organic constituents transported by spacecraft in order to support the integrity of research and the study of extraterrestrial life, if she exists”.
These guidelines come just before the big push expected for human space missions. From the start, spacecraft and rovers, for example, have undergone strict cleaning and disinfection processes before reaching their destination to kill microorganisms that could have traveled. Humans may now be added to the mix, so there is an even greater chance that bacteria and other microorganisms will be transported through the solar system.
These guidelines, according to NASA, are evolving and will be modified as new information becomes mission-specific.